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A New Balance Between Pollution Prevention And Mitigation

Perhaps the prizes for the most thankless job in the world should go to the people in charge of clean-up operations following a major oil spill. As experts, they will be only too painfully aware of the severe limitations of today's clean-up technology. They will know that oil recovery rates of less than 10 percent are the norm. Yet they will be surrounded by people with totally unrealistic expectations of what can and should be achieved.

With this in mind, one can be forgiven for asking why the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) directed virtually all available resources towards mitigation measures post-spill, rather than preventive measures which aim to stop spills from happening in the first place.

The huge funds made available for clean-up were allocated without cost-benefit analysis of more promising preventive strategies. If this analysis had been done, a proportion of the funds almost certainly would have been channeled into salvage, the first line of defense against pollution.

The weakness of OPA 90 needs to be put into perspective. During 1989 to 1992, International Salvage Union member salvors attended 40 casualties involving actual or threatened pollution on a major scale.

The main technique adopted was shipto- ship transfer of cargo, following the salvage team's initial action to extinguish fires, pump out flooded spaces and make emergency repairs. Without the salvor's intervention, large spills would have resulted and clean-up teams (even those well-equipped and resourced) would have probably picked up 10 percent at best. It is easy to understand the general reluctance to face up to the disappointing realities of clean-up. Salvage, meanwhile, is not the only preventive option. Other actions on this front include: the introduction of Total Quality Management systems; Enhanced Survey; and tougher port state control. However, all other options have a serious flaw: they will take years to deliver their benefits. The shipping industry can't afford to wait for such improvements. In the 1980s, the numbers of serious shipping accidents fell. But the trend moved into reverse over the past three years. The tanker owner faces an ever-present risk, albeit slight, of involvement in a spill of catastrophic proportions. There is an acute need for measures which promise to be effective in the short-term initiatives which can deliver an immediate and dramatic reduction of operational risk.

38 Salvage is a viable short-term route to significant risk reduction, as salvors often transform a potential pollution disaster into a successful salvage. However, new initiatives are needed if an appropriate level of salvage-based protection is to continue to be available, at round-the-clock readiness, to defend heavily trafficked areas and vulnerable shorelines.

Those responsible for drafting OPA 90 may have overlooked the importance of salvage due to the simple fact that the salvor's success is invisible. Fortunately, however, the U.S. authorities now embrace the ISU's first principle, which is "keep the pollutant in the ship." The logic behind this approach has prompted a major survey of salvage resources in U.S. waters. The National Response Corp., working with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the U.S. Navy (USN), is in the process of reassessing national salvage posture, with particular emphasis on the role of salvors in emergency response and pollution defense.

Major operations carried out over the past year underlined the effectiveness of timely salvage response and cargo recovery via ship-toship transfer. These cases included two major emergencies within the space of four months in the Malacca Straits.

In September of last year, the Liberian tanker Nagasaki Spirit and the containership Ocean Blessing collided in the northern approaches to the Straits. The 96,000-dwt Nagasaki Spirit suffered severe structural damage and lost approximately 12,000 tons of crude oil. There was also a severe loss of life. Huge fires resulted, but were eventually overcome by salvors. Later, the bulk of Nagasaki Spirit's cargo was transferred to another vessel.

In January this year, the 270,000-dwt Maersk Navigator and the smaller tanker Sanko Honour collided in the same area. The first salvage vessel to arrive at the scene found the Maersk Navigator a mass of smoke and flames.

After many days of close-quarters firefighting, the salvors extinguished the fire and safely transferred around 90 percent of Maersk Navigator's 250,000-tons of Omani crude to another vessel.

Over the past 15 years, ISU salvors performed more than 2,400 salvage operations; several hundred involving laden tankers. If salvors are to continue to provide essential pollution prevention services, there needs to be a better balance between prevention and mitigation, and an appropriate reallocation of resources. • Fleet Age & Human Error Three P&I studies over the past two years have confirmed that 60 to 80 percent of all shipping accidents result from human error (see related story page 44).

Meanwhile, freight rates remain too low to trigger newbuilding programs on a scale extensive enough to produce a younger world fleet.

The human error and age factors brought Tecnitas, the Bureau Veritas consultancy which carried out the first-ever International Salvage Survey in 1992, to the alarming conclusion that an additional 100 serious shipping casualties a year can be expected by 1996.

This belief, that the improvement in maritime safety visible in the 1980s has moved into reverse during the 1990s, has touched a raw nerve in many administrations. In the U.K., for example, the loss of the Braer in early 1993 resulted in a Department ofTransportation-commissioned study of emergency towing and salvage resources available to protect the British coastline.

In February, a joint industry body, the Salvage Working Group, published a report calling for greater industry collaboration with governmental and intergovernmental agencies on salvagerelated issues, including pollution defense.

Within days of the loss of the Braer, EC Environment and Transport Ministers gathered to consider the scope for new initiatives to improve maritime safety and pollution prevention. A few weeks later, the European Commission adopted a "Common Policy on Safe Seas." This calls for new measures in the areas of emergency response and salvage cover. Meanwhile, the International Maritime Organization declared the improvement of salvage services a high priority task under resolution 8 of the Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation Convention. The IMO work will build on the Salvage Working Group's recommendations.

The industry is also stirring following publication of the Salvage Working Group report. A successor body, the Salvage Liaison Group, met for the first time in May.

Already, the ISU and BIMCO have agreed on new model contracts for wet salvage services, thus fulfilling one of the Salvage Working Group's recommendations. New Priorities For The 1990s Tonnage lost in the three years 1990, 1991 and 1992 exceeded the figures recorded in the late 1980s. In 1992, the number of "no cure-no pay" salvage operations performed by ISU salvors increased by 10 percent, to 202.

Looking ahead, the new initiatives to help ensure salvors continue to "keep the pollutant in the ship" should include: • Methodical assessment, region by region, of salvage needs in relation to traffic density, accident record and environmental sensitivity; • The development of realistic criteria for identifying a cost-effective balance between spill prevention and mitigation; • New programs to put salvors' expertise to work in the field of education and training. The first hour of a marine emergency is crucial. One useful initiative here might involve special courses for ships' crews which focus on "emergency first aid" action to be taken in the period before professional salvage help arrives. There are also, of course, the questions arising from the public interest dimension of salvage. Should market forces alone be permitted to govern the distribution of precious salvage resources? There is a growing view that free market benefits need to be balanced against the need for emergency cover in those areas which might be left unprotected without some degree of state intervention or participation. Whilst recognizing the public interest dimension, we believe that state intervention, where necessary, should be modeled on existing schemes under which private salvors and governments cooperate to provide pollution defense cover. The ISU is an organization of private companies working in a highly-competitive market.

 
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